Jenga Block Faith

Jenga Block Faith August 17, 2016

Jenga-Block-Faith

The above cartoon by David Hayward provides a really nice illustration of the issues related to foundationalism – even if there appear to be two blocks missing from the set. But the person in the cartoon doesn’t appear to be playing the game properly anyway. Anyone who plays Jenga, or fundamentalism, knows that you need to leave that one bottom block alone unless you want the whole thing to come crashing down.

Was it Nietzsche or someone else who said that, while philosophers take pride in the all-encompassing structures that they build, those who follow after them are happy if they can find the occasional useful stone in the rubble that is left from their systems of thought?

The problem is that we are constantly learning – or should be and can be – both as individuals and as a species. And so by definition any attempt to put together an all-encompassing worldview is bound to require revisions.

And so while some try to put the Bible – and a leap of faith about its character and contents – at the bottom, thinking that will hold up everything built on top of it, that is in fact a recipe for disaster. To the extent that you think that this is a game, one that you lose if your beliefs come crashing down, then you are setting yourself up to lose by doing this.

With some games, the only way to win is not to play. This is true of Bible, and of worldview construction (see my earlier posts “How To Win At Bible” and “Bible Prooftexting is an Unwinnable Game.”)

A better approach is the life of faith – not in the sense that ironically misunderstands faith to mean irrational and unshakeable certainty, but precisely in the sense that recognizes our own inability to know all and see all. Faith in the sense of a recognition that I am not God makes for a better foundation for one’s worldview, precisely because it not only prepares you to be open to revising your beliefs, but teaches you to expect to do so.

 

 

 


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  • histrogeek

    The mention of Jenga and overreaction to any alteration of what is considered the “foundation” reminded me of this from Dead Like Me. “You give in on one little thing, you compromise and compromise and so you’re a shell of a man who stands for nothing.”

  • CrazyDogLady

    Yep. About 25 or so years ago, I decided to put “inerrant, inspired (magic) Bible” as the foundation of my faith, and spent about the first 23 years trying not to mess with that bottom block and the last two staring at all the knocked-over blocks on the floor. Until I remembered that when I first had faith, as a little girl, my bottom block was not the Bible. It was Jesus.

  • histrogeek

    The mention of Jenga and overreaction to any alteration of what is
    considered the “foundation” reminded me of this from Dead Like Me. “You
    give in on one little thing, you compromise and compromise and so you’re
    a shell of a man who stands for nothing.”

  • arcseconds

    Worldview construction is a game where the only winning move is not to play?

    That’s an interesting perspective, but it doesn’t seem to me to be your perspective, James, because you do seem to have a worldview. Arguably no-one can really be without one, but I suppose there’s a sense in which an academic sceptic, who refuses to assert anything, and follows all assertions by an argument against that assertion, is lacking one, but this isn’t you.

    Or are you suggesting there’s no point in attempting to construct a worldview, but rather just let the cards fall where they may, que sera sera? Again this doesn’t really sound like you…

    • Thanks for asking for clarification – I guess I really didn’t express myself clearly! What I hoped to convey was that trying to build a worldview that won’t require revisions, something definitive, is an unwinnable game. Sooner or later blocks need to be removed. And as with Jenga, the game by definition involves pulling blocks out and replacing them. And so if one approaches worldview construction as setting things in place with no possibility that they might be moved or that the whole thing might collapse, then one is going to find it as traumatic as one would find Jenga if one approached it with the same expectations.

      • arcseconds

        Hopefully it’s not like Jenga in the sense that one ends up with a taller but increasingly teetering edifice which crashes spectacularly to the ground as a result of one small action that isn’t performed carefully enough…

        • That is exactly what the experience of fundamentalists tends to be like when it comes to their worldview…

        • Timothy Hans Kurnia

          +1

  • Timothy Hans Kurnia

    IMHO The Bible SHOULD NOT be the bottom Block. Back when the gospel was being preached, wasn’t it that the people they preach to had centuries of Jewish tradition as the foundation (the Jewish audience at least), and the gospel the Apostles preached were communicated orally, of what Jesus taught to them.

  • jekylldoc

    Thanks for this helpful perspective. In my evangelical days I was taught that the train had “Fact” first, then “Faith” and finally “Emotion”. That sounds good, except that the content of “Fact” is in fact placed there by “Faith”. There is no epistemology in their declaration of “Fact”.

    I still struggle to shake free of that strange train. If I had to explain my thought about my Christianity today I would start with “interpretation” or perhaps “inspiration.” I believe that love trumps hate because that is where I want to invest my life, not because I have sifted the evidence and come to that conclusion. I believe that light casts out darkness because it fits my observation of how there can be hope in this dismal, conflictual world, not because I try to be on the winning side and the side of light seems to be winning (does it? millions of Trumpistas think not).

    I really like Morgan Guyton’s chapter “Poetry, not Math” (in “How Jesus Saves the World From Us”) about how to work with scriptural authority. Maybe the title says enough, or maybe read the book (he also has a great comparison to playing jazz). The point is not that the Bible is “just poetry” but that the flexibility and expansiveness of the Bible, like that of poetry, is only set free if we read it with a different mindset (very different neurologically, I suspect) from the way we read math (or science or other precise and epistemologically grounded work).

    I guess I would go so far as to say that it cannot speak directly to us if we are trying to hear it as a presentation of “Fact”.

    Long ago Alasdair MacIntyre posited (in an obscure religious studies publication I stumbled across) that religion cannot function if we understand how it works. That is a hinge observation: everything turns on it. He put things quite differently, but perhaps intuited that as soon as it becomes instrumental, religion ceases to be genuine.

    • I would hope that religion is indeed enough like jazz that, however much one might say that you can either analyse and study it or play and enjoy it, but perhaps not both simultaneously, one can do both in such a way that understanding and performing enhance rather than detract from each other.

      • jekylldoc

        A good comparison. We can understand ‘about’ our faith, and our understanding can deepen the spiritual process and avoid some damage that might happen otherwise, but I doubt if we can both analyze and practice religion in one process.

  • John MacDonald

    James said:

    Was it Nietzsche or someone else who said that, while philosophers take pride in the all-encompassing structures that they build, those who follow after them are happy if they can find the occasional useful stone in the rubble that is left from their systems of thought?

    There is a truly excellent new article exploring aspects of Nietzsche’s Philosophy by Dr. Jaco Gericke on on the “Bible and Interpretation” website here: https://bibleinterp.arizona.edu/articles/philosophical-assumptions-related-question-what-god-hebrew-bible-scholarship

    I give my brief thoughts on Dr Gericke’s analysis of Nietzsche in a short post here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-essence-and-existence-of-nietzsches.html

    • John MacDonald

      ABOVE WAS SIGNIFICANTLY EDITED.